Climate Compass Blog

The future of cars and light trucks

Can we reduce greenhouse gas emissions from running our cars and light trucks by 80 percent by 2050? According to a new report by the National Academy of Sciences, the answer is yes, but it will be difficult, and it can only happen with a set of strong, sustained, and adaptive public policies.  

For the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of serving on the NAS Committee that produced this new report. We concluded that four fuel and vehicle pathways can help us meet our goals: (1) continuous improvements in the efficiency of conventional gasoline-powered cars, (2) biofuels, (3) hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles, and (4) plug-in electric vehicles. Each of these could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time, but each also faces enormous challenges.

Schools’ Challenge provides lasting lessons

Teaching students how to save energy and help the environment provides lessons that can last a lifetime. That’s the biggest takeaway of our third annual Change Our 2morrow (CO2) Schools’ Challenge.

The 2013 Schools’ Challenge, an initiative of Alcoa Foundation and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions’ Make an Impact program, took place last month in seven schools across five states. Thousands of middle school students, their teachers, families and community members participated in interactive lessons, completed an energy-saving pledge list, and calculated their carbon footprint as part of the month-long program. Collectively, 10,433 people committed to take actions in their daily lives that will save more than 21 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s equivalent to taking 2,000 cars off the road for one year.

Party like it's 1994

Some good news on U.S. carbon emissions: They fell again last year. Carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels used for transportation, power, industry and in our homes fell 3.4 percent in 2012, according to a report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).  In fact, they’ve fallen 12 percent since their 2007 peak, to the lowest level since 1994.

Why were carbon emissions down last year? The short answer is because we used less coal and petroleum, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels. But there are various reasons for that decline in use.

Champions of Change ceremony awards climate advocates

Photo courtesy

The White House last week honored 12 people from across the United States who are taking a leadership role in their communities on climate change.

The Champions of Change recipients are working in fields as diverse as military contracting, coastal restoration, and agriculture, but what ties them together is their belief in the importance of taking action on climate change.

One award winner, snowboarding pioneer Jeremy Jones is the founder of Protect Our Winters (POW), an advocacy group that is mobilizing the winter sports community to take action on climate change.  Skiers and snowboarders are witnessing the effects of climate change firsthand as snowfall patterns shift and snow season gets shorter. These changes also haven’t escaped the attention of companies like the Aspen Skiing Company, which signed the Ceres’ “Climate Declaration” calling for Congress to act on climate change. POW’s success in getting the message out to the winters sports community highlights how a personal, impacts-related climate message can resonate, especially when there are solutions available to address the problem.

Also receiving recognition was Fred Yoder, a fourth-generation farmer involved with the 25x’25 Alliance, a group that promotes renewable sources of land-based energy. Yoder noted that farms have a huge potential to both reduce the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change and build resilience to the impacts we cannot avoid.

On our own?

Spring not only brings us daffodils and cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., but also occasionally powerful thunderstorms that can knock out power to thousands of homes and businesses.

I live in one of those northern and western suburbs of DC that tend to lose power fairly frequently.

It used to be that one of the few nice things about losing power was the sound of silence. But those days are gone. Now losing power has a new sound: the whirring of the startup of my neighbors’ backup generators.

We need power not only to keep our food from spoiling and protect us from uncomfortable and even dangerous heat, but also to stay connected. As a nation, we are becoming ever more dependent on electronic devices. We cannot survive without our cell phones and computers, let alone our refrigerators and air conditioners. At the same time, climate change threatens the reliability of the grid through more intense heat waves and potentially more powerful storms.

While it’s easy to say we should work to prevent disruption in electricity, how much should we invest to bolster the resilience of the grid? And who should pay?